There’s something that puzzles me about this Facebook, Russia and the election advertising thing

On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that hundreds of Russia-based accounts had run anti-Hillary Clinton ads precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda. It will take time to prove whether the account owners had any relationship with the Russian government, but one thing is clear: Facebook has contributed to, and profited from, the erosion of democratic norms in the United States and elsewhere.

The audacity of a hostile foreign power trying to influence American voters rightly troubles us. But it should trouble us more that Facebook makes such manipulation so easy, and renders political ads exempt from the basic accountability and transparency that healthy democracy demands.

Americans are worrying about this, yes?

The U.S. has a long history of attempting to influence presidential elections in other countries – it’s done so as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to a database amassed by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University.

That number doesn’t include military coups and regime change efforts following the election of candidates the U.S. didn’t like, notably those in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. Nor does it include general assistance with the electoral process, such as election monitoring.

Levin defines intervention as “a costly act which is designed to determine the election results [in favor of] one of the two sides.” These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.

The Americans are complaining, yes?

28 thoughts on “There’s something that puzzles me about this Facebook, Russia and the election advertising thing”

  1. What is it about the left that they believe the voters are just sheep waiting to be feed a message how how to vote?

  2. Jonathan, AIPAC is an American organisation. See the first letter in the acronym. Unless, of course, you believe Jews necessarily have divided loyalties and aren’t really Americans.

    And, yes, Tim is right to highlight the complete lack of self-awareness is the complaint.

  3. Wow, Bongo must still be lubricating the Patent Tabulating Engine, so;

    Facebook reported a $100,000 spend across 470 accounts over a ~2 year period, on 3,000 adverts.

    That’s roughly; 4 ads per day, or $34 per ad. Or $0.30 per account per day. Or $140 per account.

    Facebook revenues in 2016 were ~$27bln. The $100,000 spend is less than 0.000004% of revenue.

    Same day, it was reported that Facebook tells it’s advertisers that it has 41m accounts belonging to users in the US in the 18-24 age range.

    The US census reports 31m Americans in that demographic segment.

    Or, Facebook is out by 33%.

    Remarkable.

  4. Facebook reported a $100,000 spend

    As someone else pointed out, if that’s what it costs to throw an election, the US has bigger problems. Of course, nobody cares about the millions the Clinton campaign received from abroad via the foundation, but a hundred grand on Facebook adverts is proof Trump should be impeached.

  5. Of course, Lady Hil and Lord Bill would never, ever denigrate any Republican, nor ask someone to vote for them instead of Trump.

    God forbid.

  6. I’m amazed at how the Russians managed to swing the election with just $100,000; whereas Hillary wasn’t able to do it with $1,400,000,000. Perhaps they should hire Russian psephologists next time.

  7. “Unless, of course, you believe Jews necessarily have divided loyalties and aren’t really Americans.”

    It’s a reasonable position to take. If some Jewish Americans lobby the US Government to put Israel, the Jewish State, first, then one must question where their true loyalty lies – just as one could legitimately question the loyalty of American Communists during the Cold War:

    ” No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.”

    Matthew 6:24

  8. “Jonathan, AIPAC is an American organisation”: yeah, and the Communist Party of Great Britain was a British organisation, wunnit? The name always tells you all you need to know.

  9. I think political ideas for some people are so strong that losing can be like grief. The idea here being the dream of permanent, ever more “liberal” America. And so you have the same stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

    We’ve been through denial and anger already

    Denial: OMG Trump got elected, I can’t believe this
    Anger: Fuck Trump, let’s go on a march

    We’re now onto “bargaining”. Appeal to higher, unseen powers: If only Bernie had run, if only Facebook had not run ads.

    There’s some people moving to the depression stage: “This country is fucked under Trump”.

    Acceptance is trickier for some people, some of them just never let go of stuff. Hilary Clinton, for example. Still complaining about everyone but herself.

  10. What is it about the left that they believe the voters are just sheep waiting to be feed a message how how to vote?

    They’re simply assuming that everyone else takes political decisions in the same way they themselves do.

  11. You point out to Americans complaining about foreign intervention that they should not be impacted by foreigners and they tell you they are not. You point out a system that allows foreigners to influence how people vote is broken, they tell you that they are not influenced.
    Yet the complain about foreigners impacting the vote….

  12. ‘Facebook revealed that hundreds of Russia-based accounts’

    Hundreds? When over a hundred million votes were cast?

    ‘had run anti-Hillary Clinton ads’

    Printing what Hillary actually said and done. That’s propaganda!

    ‘precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda’

    Would love to know how they know that.

    ‘It will take time to prove whether the account owners had any relationship with the Russian government’

    And if it’s proved, so fvcking what?

    ‘but one thing is clear: Facebook has contributed to, and profited from, the erosion of democratic norms in the United States and elsewhere’

    Norms? Complete lack of awareness of the history of democracy in the U.S.

    ‘The audacity of a hostile foreign power’

    Russia isn’t hostile. In fact, the Hildebeast sold them mass quantities of uranium. Oh, sorry . . . is that propaganda?

    ‘trying to influence American voters rightly troubles us’

    Like Tim says, everyone has been doing it forever.

    ‘But it should trouble us more that Facebook makes such manipulation so easy, and renders political ads exempt from the basic accountability and transparency that healthy democracy demands.’

    The problem is ‘the basic accountability and transparency.’ It’s bullshit. Government intrusion into the democratic process. The Left wants control; people find a way around it.

    Technology is changing the world. SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN wants to stop it. Coz he lost. BoM4 may be correct, but I can’t tell if these Lefty dingbats are trying to convince us, or themselves.

  13. I assume St Obama telling the UK to vote Remain wasn’t an attempt to interfere in the democratic process of a foreign country then?

  14. Hey these politicians tell the voters to vote for them. Is that not interfering in the decisions of the individual voters?
    How about when the union you belong to encourages you to vote for a certain candidate of one party – is that not also interfering with people vulnerable to political propaganda?

    Hey, how about they teach people in school how to not be vulnerable to political propaganda? Oh wait, the people who never left school would then be teaching the children to not listen to their betters…

  15. On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that hundreds of Russia-based accounts had run anti-Hillary Clinton ads precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda.

    I love this: “…Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda.” What they meant, of course, is “stupid white male deplorables who bitterly cling to God and guns”.

    Could the New York Times be anymore condescending towards those with which they disagree? And could they be any less blinkered and provincial in their thinking and outlook?

    Nobody, and I mean nobody, outside of the chattering classes and the hard-left crazies ever bought into this for a second. Which is why the chattering classes and hard-left crazies moved off of “Trump the Russian Stooge” to “Trump the Nazi”.

    Once again, the Times demonstrates just how completely out of touch with reality it is.

  16. run anti-Hillary Clinton ads precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda

    Why run anti-Clinton adds at Democrat voters? Wasting their money.

  17. It’s all quite chilling, isn’t it?

    I suppose it could be if anyone outside of Washington DC and New York City actually gave a shit about what the New York Times thinks about anything.

    The only one getting chilly is the new clothed emperor, and that be the Times itself.

  18. Jgh,

    I remember the guardian running a series where they were actively campaigning in a small town in rural USA during one election. I thought it was 2012, but could be wrong.

    It was patronising, unwelcome and totally counter productive, as you’d expect.

  19. It was 2000 or 2004, and their target was GW Bush. He won the area they targeted by a small majority, lots of people who lived there were furious with the Guardian’s intervention. Some people reckon the Guardian tipped a very tight election to Bush.

    The Guardian deny it of course but it would be truly hilarious if it were true.

  20. A few hundred acconts is mass atack now. The FSB musf have bought some second hand windows machines.
    You can’t go wrong with IBM, Vladimir.”

  21. I seem to have thought of something no-one else has.
    Facebook will get the account geographical location from the IP address. I just looked up the 10 best rated VPN providers & asked the first on the list if they have servers in Russia.
    They do.
    So there’s no necessity for any of the accounts in question to be Russian based. You could open an account from Washington & Facebook would have it as Russian.
    So if you wanted to kick-off a scare story about Russian involvement in the US election ….
    And, of course, actual Russians wishing to interfere with the US election process could…

  22. @Rob: the most interesting thing about that BBC link is that in 2004 they would describe the Guardian as a ‘left wing’ newspaper. A decade later they would never do that, not least because the person who was responsible for the Guardian Ohio campaign is now a senior BBC editor……………

  23. 2004? Time flies… I remember finding it pretty funny, and I wasnt particularly politically engaged at the time.

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